Academic journal article Italica

Matteo Garrone's High Art of Low Culture

Academic journal article Italica

Matteo Garrone's High Art of Low Culture

Article excerpt

Background on Genre

At first viewing, both of Matteo Garrone's films, L'imbalsamatore (2002) and Primo Amore (2004), are disturbing, to say the least. Perhaps they could, for that reason, be easily taken as yet two further incarnations of the noir-thriller genre so prevalent in Italy (and worldwide) since the early 1990s concerned with, and reveling in, morbid fascination with death, subjugation and psychological suffering in a postmodern society where each example (literarily and cinematically) seems to be aventure to out-shock the public by taking the two media to their limits of expression, even when this leads to indulgence for indulgence's sake. Such authors and directors deliberately choose as subjects organized crime, smugglers, the deformed, murderers, detectives, medical examiners, marginalized characters, deviants and people who live among the shadows of their own psychoses.

In literature, Carlo Lucarelli's two novels, Lupo mannaro and Almost blue--the latter of which was adapted to film by Alex Infascelli (2)--stand out as exemplars within the noir-horror genre which takes itself more seriously in its comments on post-modernity and genre itself than even Dario Argento's pieces which teemed with meta-generic winks and kitschy self-awareness. Yet, even Argento has lost some of his edge in terms of genre: he has begun to quote himself and allow himself to be affected by CSI-type (3) crime shows, which in turn were inspired by such fictitious jaunts into hyperrealism provided by Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme 1991) and Copycat (Jon Amiel 1995). Argento's Il cartaio (2004) is a perfect example of how even the master can produce derivative, stale films.

By now, over-indulgence and gratuitousness are, even without meta-cinematic irony, a sort of irony in themselves. Giada Colagrande's Aprimi il cuore (2002) exemplifies a production that takes for granted the excessive numbness to killing in contemporary society so that even the murderers seem listless, if not somewhat artistic--for what else could death analogize in a society so jaded (no pun intended) by violence and viciousness, as seen in the filmic version of Giancarlo De Cataldo's Romanzo criminale (Placido 2005), in which narrative elements are overshadowed by the regularity of vendetta killings which rhythmically punctuate the film. Even a more thoughtful film, which deals with immigration issues, like Stefano Incerti's 2004 Prima del tramonto, devolves into a pulp ending where bodies pile up with equal violence. Then there are the run-of-the-mill, pro-forma horror-thrillers, like Pierfrancesco Campanella's Cattive inclinazioni (2003). Even Gabriele Salvatores made an attempt in this area in Quo vadis, baby? (2005): here, Salvatores attempts to use the contrived trope of the examination of one crime which leads a character to 'examine' her own mind, the result of which is that a wrong from sixteen years prior is righted. He seems light-years away from his 2000 film Denti, in which he blended psychosis, existential struggle, visual poetry and stylization to create a world in which the protagonist's hallucinations are those of the audience; reality and thought are one. Paolo Sorrentino's 2004 film-noir, Le conseguenze dell'amore, approaches the stylistic integrity of Garrone's films. Sorrentino's film also thematically renders the paradoxes found in Garrone's film, whereby if only for excesses, a character capable of loving and goodness can be distorted to the point of producing dark consequences. We see this most obviously in Garrone: the victim in L'imbalsamatore becomes the killer of the eponymous taxidermist; the victim in Primo amore attempts the murder of the goldsmith in order to flee his torment and subjugation of her.

The obvious progression from Pulp Fiction by Tarantino to contemporary Italian films has been married to the notion of the detective story itself, the 'indagine' that is a meta-referential medium for deciphering post-modern society. …

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